FSGB: “Automatism” Defense Against Notoriously Disgraceful Conduct Charge Fails

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Via FSGB Case No. 2020031 February 19, 2021
HeldThe Department proved by preponderant evidence that the charged employee committed notoriously disgraceful conduct by engaging in non consensual sexual contact with a colleague in a public Embassy space; the misconduct was not caused by a neurological condition (automatism); there was a nexus between the charged misconduct and the efficiency of the Service; and that the penalty of separation is reasonable.Case
SummaryThe Department charged an unaccompanied married employee with notoriously disgraceful conduct after he went to a pool party at an overseas post, had a few alcoholic drinks, and, after some physical contact with a married colleague who was intoxicated, touched her near her genital area without her consent. The incident was videotaped by security cameras and was observed by employees who were at the pool. The Department argued that intent is not an element of the charged misconduct but should be considered as a mitigating or aggravating factor when the penalty is determined. The agency presented the testimony of an expert witness who opined that the charged employee did not suffer from an automatism at the time of the misconduct. The agency contended that the undisputed evidence proves notoriously disgraceful conduct. The Department argued that separation was the only appropriate penalty for the egregious misconduct, given a fair consideration of the mitigating and aggravating factors and a review of comparator cases.
The charged employee presented a report from an expert witness who opined that at the time of the misconduct, the employee was experiencing a neurological event, called an automatism,which prevented him from having any awareness of, or control over, his actions. The charged employee contended that he is not culpable for the charged misconduct because intent to commit the conduct is a necessary element of the charge.The employee also argued that the Deciding Official did not properly consider mitigating circumstances and the penalty was unreasonable after a review of comparator cases.
The Grievance Board considered the undisputed evidence of the incident that was recorded on the videotape and not contested by the charged employee. The Board further reviewed the testimony of the competing experts and concluded that the opinion of the charged employee’s expert witness was not sound because it was not consistent with the accounts of the witnesses, including the charged employee, and it did not derive from a persuasive differential diagnosis. The Board concluded that the charged employee’s expert witness speculated repeatedly on the possible causes for an automatism,which undermined the plausibility of his ultimate opinion. The Board further found that because intent was clearly established, the issue of whether intent is an element of the charge did not need to be decided. The Board concluded that there was a nexus between the misconduct and the efficiency of the Service because the incident was videotaped, witnessed by several employees, resulted in an almost immediate curtailment and a suspension of the charged employee’s security clearance. Lastly, the Board found that the penalty was within the zone of reasonableness after an appropriate review of mitigating factors and case comparators.
The Board finds that Department “has established by preponderant evidence that the charged employee committed the specified charge of notoriously disgraceful conduct, the misconduct was not the product of an automatism; there is a nexus between the misconduct and the efficiency of the Service; and the penalty of separation is reasonable.”
Note: Depending on the browser you’re using, the FSGB cases may not be available to read online; each record may need to be downloaded to be accessible. With Firefox browser, however, you may select “open with Firefox” if you want to read the case file, or save the file to your computer. Please use the search button here to locate specific FSGB records.

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Why ‘Lack of Candor’ Can Get Federal Employees in Real Trouble

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According to OPM, “lack of candor”  focuses on an employee’s duty to be forthcoming in responses with regard to all facts and information in their possession. Frederick v. Justice, 52 MSPR 126, 133 (1991); Fargnoli v. Dept. of Commerce, 123 MSPR 330 (2016). 
Federal Times/Legal Matters cited the 1998 case of Lachance v. Erickson, 118 S.Ct. 753: “…. a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decided that a federal agency may discipline an employee who lies or lacks candor to the agency regarding alleged employment-related misconduct, including falsely denying the offense, such that the agency can discipline the employee not only for the underlying act of misconduct, but also for the lie or lack of candor. It’s the latter (the lie) that almost always results in a more severe penalty than if the employee simply admitted the underlying wrongdoing.” Read in full here.
A most public “lack of candor’ case that made relatively recent news is here.
Below is an excerpt from FSGB Case No. 2014-049. This case is notable because the grievant is a tenured DS agent who got in trouble, among other things, for not being “entirely forthcoming,” the fact that the agency has access to private emails, and how each instance of not being forthcoming becomes a specification in the charge.
HELD: The Department of State carried its burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that grievant, a tenured Diplomatic Security Officer, committed the acts with which he is charged. The Board found that a 10-day suspension without pay was reasonable. The grievance appeal was denied.
OVERVIEW: Grievant, a tenured Diplomatic Security (DS) Agent, appeals the Agency’s denial of his grievance in which he sought a reduction of a 10-day suspension, the penalty he received for multiple disciplinary charges. The original charges included: (1) improper personal conduct; (2) misuse of government resources; (3) lack of candor; (4) poor judgment; and (5) failure to follow regulations. Although the deciding official declined to find grievant liable for Charge 4 and although grievant takes responsibility for Charges 2, 3, and 5, he denies the misconduct alleged in Charge 1 and the reasonableness of the penalty. The deciding official determined that the 10-day suspension originally proposed remained reasonable even though one charge was not sustained. The Board concluded that agency satisfied its burden of proving that grievant committed the improper personal conduct as charged, i.e. groping a female, subordinate employee (grabbing her buttocks) at a Marine House toga party in The Board also concluded that the 10-day suspension was reasonable under the totality of the Douglas analysis and that the agency was not obligated to reduce the penalty originally proposed merely because one of the charges was not sustained.

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FSGB Case: Why You Should Not/Not Take Your Hard Drive With You When Departing Post

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The FSGB Annual Report for 2021 mentions a disciplinary case where  the Board affirmed the agency’s decision in a case concerning an information security violation (FSGB Case No. 2018-030). So we went and looked up the case which includes Charge 1 for failure to follow proper security procedures:

12 FAM 625.2-2 Removal of Microcomputers, Media and Software
Personnel are prohibited from removing U.S. Government microcomputers or media from Department premises without the prior written approval of the [Information Systems Security Officer] ISSO and additionally, if abroad, the RSO or [Post Security Officer] PSO.

And Charge 2 for failure to safeguard government property:

12 FAM 622.1-7 Protection of Media and Output
… (b)(2) Abroad: Media shipped between posts must be sent at a minimum by controlled shipment.
( c) The data center manager and the system manager must label removable media either UNCLASSIFIED or SBU.

Overview via ROP:
Held – The Department of State (Department, agency) has established via preponderant evidence that grievant violated Department regulation both in removing a Sensitive But Unclassified hard drive from his computer and taking it with him to his next post, and in failing to comply with the requirement to use a controlled shipment in returning it to post. On review, the Board finds that the proposed penalty is reasonable.
Case Summary – Grievant, a removed the Sensitive But Unclassified hard drive from his computer when leaving post in and took it on to his next post without reporting his action or seeking permission from the Information Systems Security Officer or the Regional Security Officer at post. When the RSO in asked him to return the hard drive, grievant mailed it back to post via an uncontrolled shipment, but it never arrived. The Department charged him with Failing to Follow Proper Security Procedures for removing the hard drive without permission, and Failure to Safeguard Government Property, for failing to return the hard drive in conformity with regulatory requirements for a controlled shipment.
Grievant appealed to this Board on the grounds that the Department had failed to prove by preponderant evidence that his stated method of shipment of the hard drive was not, as he contended, compliant with the rules for a controlled shipment; that the Department had failed to take into account the mitigating circumstances of a toxic atmosphere and widespread wrongdoing at post; that the Department had misapplied the appropriate penalty considerations (Douglas factors) and chosen inapposite comparator cases; and that the penalty was disproportionate, as the hard drive was only SBU, in contrast with classified documents involved in the comparator cases.
The Board determined that the Department met its burden of proving the charges of Failure to Follow Proper Security Procedures and Failure to Safeguard Government Property, that the penalty imposed was not inconsistent with comparator cases, and that the Douglas factors were properly applied.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Background via ROP:

Grievant is an FO-02 REDACTED who began his Foreign Service career as an REDACTED in 2001. At the time of the initial event giving rise to this grievance, he was serving as head of the management section in REDACTED a position he held from October 2012 until his voluntary curtailment in September 2013.

During the course of his assignment to REDACTED by his own account, a number of conflicts developed between grievant and the Chargé d’Affaires (Chargé), the General Services Officer (GSO), who reported to grievant, the Regional Security Officer (RSO) and other individuals at post. Grievant became frustrated that officials in Washington were not investigating or otherwise responding adequately, in his view, to his allegations of malfeasance, mismanagement and child abuse against various individuals serving in REDACTED Grievant decided to volunteer for an assignment at REDACTED , that required immediate voluntary curtailment from REDACTED.

Just before his departure from post in September 2013, grievant became concerned that a colleague or colleagues would attempt to retaliate against him for his claimed knowledge of irregularities in post management and individual malfeasance, or that a subordinate would file a grievance based on a negative EER written by grievant. He stated that he wished, in his own defense and to expose mismanagement, to bring with him numerous documents and emails proving his allegations, but was unable to “download” or print them, as they were too big. (The documents he stated he would need for this purpose included a .pst file of all emails he had sent or received in his time at post, as well as a number of other unspecified documents.) He therefore decided, under pressure of time, to remove the SBU hard drive from his computer and take it with him.1

Grievant states that he received oral permission to take the hard drive from a local employee in the IT section, whose name he did not know or remember. He chose not to inform or request permission from the Regional Security Officer (RSO) and the Information Systems Security Officer (ISSO) in REDACTED as required by the FAM, because the ISSO was away from post and grievant thought the RSO would refuse him permission because the documents grievant wanted to preserve implicated the RSO in wrongdoing. He stated that he needed to physically take the hard drive in order to “preserve the data” to potentially present to investigating authorities in Washington, and “my thought was to take everything I could should something come up.”2 He then took the hard drive with him upon departing post. After removing the hard drive and leaving post, grievant took no further action to report to any investigating body the alleged irregularities and malfeasance in REDACTED. He explained to the Deputy Assistant Secretary reviewing the proposed penalty that “since no one seemed to care, I didn’t.”3

A local employee subsequently reported his removal of the hard drive to the RSO. At some unspecified point after grievant’s arrival in REDACTED , the Regional Security Officer in REDACTED contacted him to request return of the hard drive.4 However, despite grievant’s assertions that he attempted to return it, the hard drive never arrived back in REDACTED. At some later point, the RSO reported the incident to Diplomatic Security (DS); in a subsequent DS interview on July 15, 2016, grievant stated that he had “attempted to return the drive via packaging sent back to the [REDACTED Embassy [diplomatic] pouch office on board a post support flight [a supply flight between REDACTED and REDACTED operated by a U.S. contracting company], ….”5 He had no further information during that interview about exactly how or when he had done so, or the current whereabouts of the hard drive.

In its decision, the FSGB concluded:

We therefore find that the Department’s choice of penalty, in a case involving both unauthorized removal of a sensitive item of media, and subsequent failure to return it, as required, via a controlled shipment, resulting in loss of the item and potential compromise of personally identifiable information pertaining to the U.S. diplomats serving abroad, is reasonable.64 The Department has a legitimate interest in ensuring the safeguarding and preservation of sensitive agency materials. As such, there is a clear nexus between the proven charges and the efficiency of the Service.

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FSGB Case: When “there were no mitigating circumstances” considered despite conditions identified by MED

 

Via FSGB: FSGB Case No. 2019-034, July 2, 2020
Held – The Board found that the Department of State (the “Department” or “agency”) did not establish cause to separate the charged employee from the Foreign Service because the Deciding Official (“DO”) did not consider evidence of his personality problems as a mitigating circumstance. The Board was persuaded by evidence in the record that the agency should exercise its authority to initiate, as an alternative to separation, the option of a disability retirement, pursuant to 3 FAM 6164.3(a).
Case Summary – The Department charged the employee with Improper Personal Conduct based upon a pattern of unprofessional and inappropriate conduct toward colleagues, primarily hundreds of unwanted emails and text messages with sexual content. The Department’s Bureau of Medical Services (“MED”) had conducted a mental health evaluation of the charged employee and concluded that “to a reasonable degree of certainty,” the charged employee exhibited “behavior or symptoms (which may not rise to the level of formal diagnosis) of an emotional, mental or personality condition that may impair his reliability, judgment or trustworthiness.” The DO determined that the charged employee committed the charged offenses and that there were no mitigating circumstances. In finding no mitigating circumstances, the DO attested in the separation hearing that she did not take into consideration either the charged employee’s emotional, mental or personality condition that MED identified or the charged employee’s emails to coworkers that included references to his communications with divine beings as well as references to his own possible mental illness. The DO notified the charged employee of her proposal to separate him from the Foreign Service and provided him the opportunity to reply in person or in writing. The DO recommended separating the charged employee to promote the efficiency of the Service. The charged employee did not respond in person or in writing to the DO’s notification of her proposal to separate him from the Service recommendation or participate in the separation hearing. The Board found the Department did not establish cause to separate the charged employee because the DO did not consider the so-called Douglas Factor #11 on the agency’s checklist that relates to mitigating circumstances surrounding personality problems, and did not exercise the agency’s authority under 3 FAM 6164.3(a) to initiate a disability retirement on behalf of the charged employee as an alternative to disciplinary action.

[…]

We do not claim medical or psychological expertise, but, in our perusal of the record, we found indicators that the charged employee was described as exhibiting personality problems, and possibly more serious mental impairment or illness, from the emails and text messages he sent to former colleagues. For example, in specification 84, the charged employee is charged with offering to help Ms. B draft a complaint and get himself fired and committed to a mental hospital for the rest of his life. Also, in specifications 86 and 87, respectively, the charged employee is alleged to have first made reference to someone wanting him to commit suicide, then later noted asking God if his wife would commit suicide and informing Ms. D that the Virgin Mary told him to inform Ms. D that he knew she was worried that he might kill himself. Further, the charged employee displayed unusual behavior when he emailed Ms. B on June 6, 2017 at 8:31 p.m. that he had declined to see a psychiatrist before consulting attorneys about his options to file a lawsuit.11 That suggests the possibility that someone raised with the charged employee the matter of seeking a psychological consultation or examination.
In addition, DS ROI #1 included a statement by the charged employee’s wife that she believed her husband suffered from mental impairment, requiring medical treatment. The record further contains evidence, according to the spouse, that MED had conducted a thorough mental health evaluation of the charged employee on four separate dates. Similarly, DS ROI #2 concluded that the charged employee had expressed that he heard voices and instructions from God, the Devil, and the Virgin Mary. (See Specifications 6-8, 25, 29, 38, 76 and 87).
[…]
In the instant case, while the agency has provided credible evidence that the charged employee’s conduct does not promote the efficiency of the Service, we find the decision falls short on consideration of so-called Douglas Factor #11 on the agency’s checklist that relates to personality problems as a mitigating factor. We also credit the charged employee’s 19 years of distinguished service before his display of conduct that gave rise to the LOR and the proposal to separate him from the Service.12
Moreover, the Board is unaware of a requirement that a DO must be privy to private medical information or be a medical professional to initiate an application for disability retirement. To the contrary, under 3 FAM 6164.2-3, HR/ER, in consultation with MED, can initiate an application for disability retirement on behalf of an employee if, inter alia, 1) the agency has issued a proposal to remove the employee, 2) the agency has a reasonable basis to conclude that illness may be the cause of the employee’s conduct which renders him unable to work satisfactorily, or 3) the employee is incompetent and there is no guardian willing to file an application on the employee’s behalf. The existence of any one of these three conditions is sufficient for the agency to initiate an action for disability retirement, and the Board finds that the conditions in 1) and 2), supra, are apparent in this case.
Accordingly, the Board is of the view that the agency has not considered all mitigating factors before recommending separation for cause and has not exercised its authority to initiate, as an alternative to separation, the option of a disability retirement for the charged employee where grounds for such a retirement are apparent on the record. Pursuant to 3 FAM 6164.3(a), MED then would determine whether the charged employee is incapacitated for useful and efficient service, which is the standard for disability retirement.

@StateDept Did Not Comply With Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) Requirements

 

Via FSGB: FSGB Case No. 2018-003
HELD – The Board granted grievant’s appeal, finding that the U.S. Department of State (Department) did not comply with the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) when it failed to provide grievant with a reasonable accommodation for her disability. The Board directed, among other things, that the parties engage in the interactive process required under the ADA to determine a reasonable accommodation.
SUMMARY – Due to a lengthy illness with cancer grievant, while serving on a limited noncareer appointment in the consular skill code, did not receive an Employee Evaluation Report (EER) from an overseas posting. A Commissioning and Tenure Board (CTB) deferred a decision on tenure until she was able to be appraised on her performance at an overseas posting. The Department assigned grievant to an overseas posting to enable her to receive such an EER. However, as a consequence of her chemotherapy, grievant experienced neuropathy in her hands, and she developed an allergy to nickel. Accordingly, she requested that she be permanently reassigned assigned to the economic skill code, which she said would require handling a smaller volume of materials. The Department denied that accommodation request but did provide her with special office equipment that it said would address her nickel allergy. Grievant continued to experience neuropathy during her overseas assignment and was medically curtailed from post without receiving an EER. As a result, her next CTB recommended that she not receive tenure, and the Department terminated her appointment. The Board held that the Department failed to meet the requirement under the ADA and Department regulations to engage with an employee with a qualifying disability, such as grievant, in an “interactive process” to determine a reasonable accommodation. Although grievant’s request to be permanently reassigned to another skill code would be a “last resort” under Department regulations, that did not relieve the Department of the duty to consider other options such as assigning grievant to positions in the consular skill code that did not involve processing large numbers of passport and visa applications. Further, the Department had an ongoing duty to find a reasonable accommodation when it became clear that the accommodation it did provide was not effective. Accordingly, the Board directed that when grievant was cleared medically to serve in an overseas posting, the parties engage in the interactive process to identify an effective accommodation for grievant’s disability.

 

FSGB 2020-008: Voluntarily Curtail Under Threat of Involuntary Curtailment or a Bad EER

 

Via FSGB 2020-008
Grievant is a tenured FP-02 Diplomatic Security Special Agent assigned as the Regional Security Officer (“RSO”) at U.S. Embassy [REDACTED] from June 2, 2017 until her involuntary curtailment on May 30, 2019. On July 3, 2019 she filed a complaint with the Department’s Office of Civil Rights (“S/OCR”) alleging sex, disability and age discrimination and reprisal for prior protected activity. In her S/OCR complaint dated July 3, 2019, she alleged 10 separate incidents of discrimination or reprisal by her rater, the Deputy Chief of Mission (“DCM”). She also alleged that at a May 8, 2019 meeting with the Ambassador (her reviewer), the rater and other senior officials, the Ambassador asked her to voluntarily curtail. When she refused, her rater informed her that her Employee Evaluation Report (“EER”) from April 16, 2018 to April 15, 2019 would contain a negative review statement. She ultimately declined to voluntarily curtail.
[…]
Grievant’s recitation of the facts – the underlying transactions – are contained in her agency filing as she has not yet filed her supplemental submission where she would have an opportunity to refine further her claims and remedies. In that filing, she provides extensive background chronicling allegations of sex and other forms of discrimination by her rater, the DCM. She also describes in detail four instances in which she invoked the displeasure of the Ambassador, her reviewer, for raising concerns that his actions or proposed actions constituted security risks. She then describes the removal of laudatory language in the draft rater’s statement and the circumstances surrounding her involuntary curtailment where she claims the DCM threatened to insert a negative reviewer’s statement into her previously drafted EER. She attributes both of these actions to retaliation for informing the DCM that she was initiating S/OCR proceedings.
From footnote, p.9:
“In stating I was going to seek EEO counsel and AFSA guidance related to discrimination I faced from the DCM, as I believe there were reprisal protections in place, I never envisioned I would face retaliation in the form of an involuntarily curtailment. It was only after I stated I was going to seek EEO counseling and AFSA guidance related to the DCM’s changes to the rater statement and then my refusal to voluntarily curtail under threat of involuntarily curtailment that a review statement which contained alleged performance issues materialized in retaliation for not acquiescing to the Front Office’s discrimination and reprisal.”
The FSGB Board issued the following order:
“… the Department’s Motion to Dismiss is denied in its entirety. Since the Department did not consider grievant’s claims on the merits, the Board remands the case to the Department for a decision on the merits. The Department should advise the Board of its decision not later than 45 days from the date of this order. Pending that decision, the Board retains jurisdiction of the case. Once the Department’s amended decision has been issued, grievant will have 60 days to amend her grievance appeal to the Board. In the meantime, the proceedings before the Board are stayed. The timeline for discovery will start anew when grievant files her amended appeal or advises the Board that no such amended appeal will be forthcoming.”
The FSGB files are not readable online; the files have to be downloaded first. Click here and locate FSGB 2020-008 from “Decision and Orders 2020” to read the full Motion to Dismiss order.

Domestic Assault, Reporting Requirement Under 2 FAM 272, and a Troublesome Comma

Posted: 4:22 am ET
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This is a grievance case about a domestic assault, an arrest, and a punctuation:

Grievant is a tenured FP-02 Financial Management Specialist, employed by the Department of State as a Regional Financial Management Officer at the REDACTED at the Executive Office of the REDACTED. He has been employed by the Department since 1997, serving both overseas and domestically.

On June 29, 2013, grievant was arrested in REDACTED on a charge of domestic assault against his wife. Grievant’s former wife reported this arrest to the Department; however, when grievant’s current spouse told authorities that the incident was a misunderstanding, the charges were dropped on July 22, 2013. On August 6, 2013, the Department of Diplomatic Security (DS) obtained a copy of the arrest report and began investigating grievant’s failure to report the incident.

DS issued a Report of Investigation (ROI), dated January 14, 2014 and on December 12, 2014, the Director of the Office of Employee Relations (HR/ERCSD) notified grievant of a proposal to suspend him for a period of five (5) calendar days without pay on a charge of Failure to Follow Policy, citing 12 FAM 272. Grievant submitted a written response to the proposal on February 20, 2015, claiming that he did not realize that he had to report the arrest because the regulation is not clear. In any event, he claimed, the arrest was reported by his ex-wife and the charges were dropped within weeks of the arrest. Finally, he claimed that the penalty was too harsh, in light of his confusion about the mandate. After reviewing grievant’s response, the Deciding Official concluded that grievant knowingly failed to report his arrest immediately after it occurred and that he was on notice of his obligation to report the arrest, both because of the “clarity” of the regulation and because grievant had previously made a mandatory report under this same provision in 2010. In the end, the Deciding Official did not credit the reasons offered by grievant and sustained the charge on April 3, 2015.

Grievant argues that the wording of 12 FAM 272 is “far from clear.” He contends that the Department’s construction of the regulation is unfair because it relies on either removing or ignoring punctuation that totally changes the meaning of the provision.

12 FAM 272 states in pertinent part:

b. Employees must immediately report information of a potentially . . . derogatory nature . . . concerning their . . .

(2) Adverse involvement with law enforcement agencies to include:

(a) Arrests, other than minor traffic violations, for which a fine or forfeiture of $150 or more was imposed, or
(b) Arrests for “driving under the influence” [DUI] or “driving while intoxicated [DWI].

c. Arrests must be reported in a timely fashion (i.e., within 72 hours) and must not be delayed pending the conclusion of any judicial action.

[…]
The Department argues that 12 FAM 272 b should be interpreted to require disclosures by cleared employees of any and all arrests, including two traffic offenses — DUI and DWI. The only exception to this rule of mandatory disclosure, according to the Department, is that an employee is not required to disclose “minor traffic violations for which a fine or forfeiture of $150 or more is imposed.”

The agency contends that this regulation required grievant to disclose the fact of his arrest for domestic assault because it was not for a minor traffic violation. The Department concedes that “the specifics of 12 FAM 272(b) could be more precisely worded,” and “the wording of 12 FAM 272(b) could be improved,” but insists that grievant had sufficient notice that he was  required to report his arrest. The Department lastly argues that under both sections 272 b and 272 c, grievant should have reported his arrest immediately, that is, within 72 hours of his “adverse involvement with law enforcement.”

Here is the full section of the Foreign Affairs Manual:

12 FAM 272  REPORTING ADVERSE FINANCIAL SITUATIONS AND CERTAIN ARRESTS
(CT:DS-143;   02-12-2009)

a. Employees should use good judgment and discretion in recognizing and avoiding situations and/or behavior that would call into question their judgment, reliability, and trustworthiness to safeguard information and to hold a position of trust and responsibility.

b. Employees must immediately report information of a potentially derogatory nature to the Director, Office of Personnel Security and Suitability (DS/SI/PSS) concerning their:

(1)  Wage garnishments, credit judgments, repossessions, tax liens, bankruptcies, and/or intentions to file for bankruptcy; or

(2)  Adverse involvement with law enforcement agencies to include:

(a)  Arrests, other than minor traffic violations, for which a fine or forfeiture of $150 or more was imposed; or

(b)  Arrests for “driving under the influence” or “driving while intoxicated.”

c.  Arrests must be reported in a timely fashion (i.e., within 72 hours) and must not be delayed pending the conclusion of any judicial action.

d. Employees with information they believe may have a bearing on another individual’s eligibility for access to classified information, as listed in 12 FAM 233.2, should report that information to the Director, DS/SI/PSS.

e. Reporting pursuant to this section should be in writing and directed to the Director, DS/SI/PSS, and may be either faxed to (571) 345-3191 or sent by mail to DS/SI/PSS, Attn: Director, 11th floor, SA-20.  Reports may also be emailed to DSDirectorPSS@state.gov.

f.  Cleared contractors must report information listed in paragraphs b, c, and d of this section to the Industrial Security Division (DS/IS/IND).  See 12 FAM 576.4 for additional adverse information reporting requirements.

The FSGB disagrees with the Department interpretation:

The critical language is “[a]rrests, other than minor traffic violations, for which a fine or forfeiture of $150 or more was imposed. . . .” The Department argues that this language should be interpreted as if the second comma were not there. That is, the agency would have us read the provision to require disclosure of: “(a) [All] arrests, other than minor traffic violations for which a fine or forfeiture of $150 or more was imposed. . . .” We find that while this may have been what was intended, the first rule of statutory construction is to give the words of the enactment their plain and ordinary meaning, presumably as punctuated, unless there is a clear contrary intent expressed.
[…]
We conclude that whatever the intent of the drafters, a clear delineation of what arrests are required to be reported was not captured in the language of the section 272 b(2)(a). We also conclude that both parties’ interpretations leave serious questions about which arrests were intended to be disclosed and which ones did not have to be reported.

12 FAM 270 was last updated on March 9, 2015.

Read the FSGB case below:

#

Senator Grassley Eyes Linda Howard Case, Seeks Answers on TIP Policy and @StateDept Employees

Posted: 1:45 am EDT
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On October 20, 2011, State/OIG issued a report entitled Audit of Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs Compliance with Trafficking in Persons Requirements (AUD/IP-12-02 – pdf). The audit found that Department employees were not uniformly aware of key matters relating to Trafficking in Persons (TIP), including what constitutes TIP activity, the penalties for TIP violations, and where to report allegations of violations. The OIG report notes that although the Department’s code of conduct prohibited employees from acquiring a commercial sex act and using forced domestic labor, it did not specifically address TIP or require employees to report suspected TIP violations.

Based on the report’s findings, OIG made four recommendations to State’s J/TIP. Of these four recommendations, OIG closed Recommendation 3 on July 23, 2013, based on the Department’s decision to designate OIG to receive reports of TIP violations. However, according to its follow-up report of September 2015 (pdf), the other two recommendations —  enclosure of the U.S. Government’s TIP policy in the Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM), and an expanded code of conduct for employees to cover conduct with respect to TIP activities — remained open.

State/OIG concludes that “by not implementing the recommendations or J/TIP providing an acceptable alternative to fulfill the intent of the open recommendations, the Department is not well-positioned to hold employees accountable for violations of TIP or ensure TIP policies and requirements are understood and followed.”

We missed this — but in September when State/OIG released the follow-up report(officially called Management Assistance Report) related to TIP, Senator Chuck Grassley also fired off a letter to Secretary Kerry asking questions sepcific not just to the OIG report but also the Linda Howard case (see Ex-State Dept Employee Settles Housekeeper’s Claim Over Slavery and Rape).

According to Senator Grassley’s letter, the Howard case “raises questions about the Department’s commitment to holding itself to the same standard by which it judges other countries in assessing their compliance with anti-trafficking standards in its annual TIP report.” Hey, we made it to the footnotes!

Screen Shot 2015-11-15

(click image to read the Grassley letter or click 2015-09-17 CEG to State (Trafficking in Persons)

Among the questions Senator Grassley asked Secretary Kerry are the following:

  1. Regarding the two TIP-related OIG recommendations that remain outstanding since 2011:
    1. Why did the Department fail to implement these recommendations?
    2. Who is responsible for the failure to implement them?
    3. Was former Secretary Clinton or any of her aides including Cheryl Mills, HumaAbedin, or Jake Sullivan informed of any of these recommendations, decisions, or findings? If so, please provide all related records, including emails. If the Secretary and her senior staff were not informed, please explain, why not.
  2. How does the Department ensure that its foreign service officers treat the domestic workers they hire or sponsor in accordance with the TVPA?
    1. As of the date of this letter, how many domestic workers are employed by Department employees worldwide?
    2. Do Department employees stationed abroad need to obtain approval from the Chief of Mission, the Regional Security Officer (RSO), or any other Department official before recruiting and hiring domestic workers? If so, whose approval is needed and what controls exist to ensure the security and safety of those workers as well as national interests? If not, why not?
    3. Is there an independent and confidential reporting mechanism by which these domestic workers may file a complaint with the Department for alleged abuses by Department employees? If not, will you consider adopting such a mechanism?
    4. Do you think implementing OIG’s 2011 recommendations would help Department employees identify and report suspected instances of TIP violations that may be occurring within their own ranks and housing complexes?

The senator is also asking questions specifically related to the State Department’s handling of the Howard case including:

— Did DS or the Department refer these allegations to any other entity, such as the OIG, or any other law enforcement agency? If so, on what date and to whom?

— At any point in time, was Under Secretary of Management Patrick Kennedy, who oversees DS, apprised of any of the allegations, decisions, findings, or news reports relating to Linda Howard or Russell Howard? If so, when, and what was his response? Please provide all related records, including emails. If not, why not?

— At any point in time, was former Secretary Clinton or any of her aides including Cheryl Mills, Huma Abedin, or Jake Sullivan informed of any of the allegations, decisions, findings, or news reports relating to Linda Howard or Russell Howard? If so, please provide all related records, including emails. If not, why not?

There is an FSGB grievance case (read online) that may or may not be related to the Howard case (names have been redacted) but the timeframe and circumstances appears similar, and it looks like DOJ declined to prosecute the case in 2011:

REDACTED (grievant) is a twenty-year Foreign Service employee of the Department of State (Department, agency). While assigned to the U.S. Embassy in REDACTED, she and her husband, an REDACTED national, were the subjects of a Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) investigation based on allegations by a household worker of sexual abuse and related crimes. This investigation began in June 2009 and ended with a declination of prosecution by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in March 2011.1 Grievant agrees that she curtailed from post in June 2009 for unrelated reasons.

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Senior FSO Solicits Favorable Comments From Subordinates, Wants GSO “To Grow a Pair”

Posted: 1:53 am EDT
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An unnamed senior FSO solicited favorable statements about herself from her subordinates and in an email to her supervisor, the DCM, made disparaging remarks that the General Services office “needs to grow a pair.” Both made it to the FSO’s evaluation report which became the subject of a grievance case before the Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB Case No. 2014-029).

The FSGB decision: Grievant, has failed to show by a preponderance of evidence pursuant to 22 C.F.R. §905.1 that her 2013 Amended EER documenting her performance while serving as Principal Officer/Consul in contained inaccuracies, omissions, errors, or falsely prejudicial information to such an extent that it must be expunged in its entirety. The appeal is denied in part and granted in part, but only for a remand with instructions to delete one phrase in the Amended EER. No other relief is granted.

Excerpt below:

Grievant is a Senior Foreign Service Officer, class of Counselor (FE-OC). She appeals the Department’s partial denial of her grievance in which she seeks the following relief: expunction from her Official Performance File (OPF) of her 2013 Amended Employee Evaluation Report (EER); extension of her time-in-class by one year; and a reconstituted 2014 SB to consider her file, if in fact she was low-ranked by the 2014 Promotion Board based upon her 2013 Amended EER.

Grievant joined the Foreign Service in 1987 as a Political Officer, and has had tours both overseas and in Washington. She has served in a variety of increasingly senior positions, including Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM)/Charge d’affaires in [REDACTED] Principal Officer in [REDACTED]  and Special Advisor to the Assistant Secretary in the [REDACTED] Bureau in Washington. The recipient of a number of awards throughout her career, she was also recommended for Performance Pay while serving as Principal Officer/Consul General in [REDACTED]. Grievant describes herself alternatively as “autistic” and a person who suffers from a disability known as Asperger’s Syndrome (a condition on what is known as the autism “spectrum”).

The contested statements concern two incidents, the basic facts of which are not in dispute and are summarized below. One incident involved grievant’s solicitation of favorable statements about herself from subordinates. The other incident arose from a remark grievant made to her rater, expressing grievant’s views of her own colleagues and using language that the rater deemed inappropriate.

The Solicitation of Statements from Subordinates. The first incident arose when grievant asked her locally-engaged (LE) assistant to gather from other LE staff written statements in which staff would describe what they liked about grievant, or how they viewed her as a boss. On December 15, 2012, grievant sent an email to her LE assistant asking that “each employee who is able or wants to do so” submit something written stating “if they liked working for me or something they liked about me as a boss.” Grievant asked her assistant (REDACTED) to compile such favorable comments for presentation to the grievant at the time of grievant’s upcoming birthday. In this email, grievant characterized the employee statements as “a gift I can keep with me always.”

When the DCM learned of grievant’s actions, she accused grievant of soliciting a gift from subordinates. The DCM issued a Letter of Admonishment to grievant, citing the email of December 15, 2012 to [REDACTED] asking for a “gift” from subordinates on the occasion of grievant’s birthday.2 In the Letter of Admonishment, the DCM instructed grievant to rescind that request. In an email of January 14, 2013, the DCM transmitted to grievant a copy of the Letter of Admonishment, directing grievant to comply with the instructions in the Letter, and to sign the Letter and return it to her. Grievant responded with a refusal to implement the instructions.

Grievant’s Remarks About Colleagues. The second incident concerns an email grievant sent to the DCM in preparation for a visit by the Secretary of State of [REDACTED]. Locally-engaged [REDACTED] staff would be coming to  [REDACTED] to support the visit. The scarcity of hotel rooms or accommodations for them became a pressing issue. In an email of August 6, 2012, to the DCM, grievant expressed her frustration that [REDACTED] American management staff, the Management Officer, and the General Services Officer (GSO), were not doing enough to secure such accommodations. Grievant wrote, in pertinent part:

For months and even during the current pre-advance, I have been trying to get the people to focus on finding hotel space or working with the government to find hotel space for the support staff. They refused to do so. Instead, they are living under the fantasy that they will be able to force the USG, with less than a month to go, to accredit FSNs as members of the US delegation and they will be able to stay with other members of the US delegation on .

Both you and I know that the USG is not going to accredit FSNs. If you are not accredited, you are not going to sleep on . Even if they want to continue to entertain this fantasy, check out hotels as a plan B. However, MGT says they have a plan B – staying in the Consulate’s non-existent TDY housing (LOL), bunking with Consulate officers (NO!), or sleeping through the night at the Consulate (H$*# to the No!).

One problem is that when the American officers broach the subject with FSNs, the FSNs refuse to look at hotel options, because the FSNs want to be accredited. GSO needs to grow a pair.

The appeal is granted in part and denied in part. Pursuant to the Board’s findings, the sole form of relief granted is that the case is remanded to the Department with instructions to make two modifications to the Amended EER. One, the Department is hereby ordered to delete the words “gift of” in every place in which the Amended EER contains the phrase “gift of positive statements from her direct reports.” Second, the Department is hereby ordered to delete from the section on “Interpersonal Skills” the phrase “and in doing so, did not set the standard for integrity.”

Read in full: 2014-029 06-11-2015 – B – Decision_Redacted (pdf).

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No Comparator Case For DS Agent With PTSD — Failure to Follow Regs, Lack of Candor Charges Came 2 1⁄2 Years Late

Posted: 3:12 am  EDT
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This is a case of a DS Agent charged with lack of candor and failure to follow regulations for incidents that took place in 2010 related to his PTSD.   The State Department issued a final decision to  suspend the agent for 12 days.  According to the ROI, the deciding official at the agency level grievance “also considered the mitigating factors and gave grievant credit for having no past formal disciplinary record and a satisfactory work history. The deciding official also noted grievant’s potential for rehabilitation, while recognizing that grievant clearly was embarrassed by his diagnosis of PTSD, and feared that he might be stigmatized by the label, or that he might even lose his job with the Department.”

A couple things striking about this case.  Following grievant’s military service in Iraq in 2006, he started having panic attacks and severe anxiety, for which he was prescribed several medications – none of which he says worked very well. His symptoms became worse over time. In 2009 he was diagnosed as having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  The incidents that ultimately led to the two charges occurred in November 2010; yet the Department did not propose disciplinary action until April 24, 2013 – a span of 29 months. The ROI does not explain the delay.

Grievant reportedly denied during the interviews with that he had been diagnosed with PTSD, saying instead that he had been treated for anxiety and panic attacks. And yet, according to the ROI, grievant avers that “he discussed his PTSD diagnosis in considerable detail with the DS investigators, and authorized release of his medical records.”

Grievant admits he did not comply with Department regulations requiring him to report that he had been prescribed psychiatric medications, but claims he was unaware of the policy requiring him to do so. He claims that he was not alone in being unaware of this requirement, as many other DS officers to his knowledge were also unaware of the regulation.

Since grievant is a DS agent, the Department has also cited 12 FAM Exhibit 023 2.5, its Deadly Force and Firearms Policy (which we can no longer read online, as it’s now behind the firewall). 12 FAM Exhibit 023 section 2.5 12 FAH-9 H-030 appears specific to prescription medication.  The State Department showed, and the FSGB agreed that there are no similar cases that presented the same set of circumstances as in this grievant’s case.

The Board held that grievance be granted in part and denied in part. The Board remanded the case to the Department to consider an appropriate penalty in view of their decision not to sustain two specifications of one of the two charges.

Summary:

Grievant faces two charges – Lack of Candor and Failure to Follow Regulations – that were leveled against him because of statements he made during a Department investigation about incidents that took place while he was in the U.S. on leave in 2010. He is a Diplomatic Security Special Agent who was admitted to the hospital on two occasions (on consecutive days) after he drank alcohol heavily and took an unknown quantity of prescription medications after he became upset about the breakup of his engagement to be married. The investigation revealed discrepancies between the information grievant gave to investigators and that found in his medical records. Records show that grievant suffers from PTSD and that he had not reported this fact to the Department. The investigation report claims that grievant denied during interviews that he had ever been diagnosed with PTSD or that he was ever in a treatment program to address the condition. His records also show that he had been prescribed several psychiatric medications, and contained no evidence that grievant had reported to the Department either the PTSD diagnosis, or the prescription medicines which are required to be reported under the agency’s Deadly Force and Firearms policy. The Department’s final decision provided for a 12-day suspension without pay.

Grievant denies the majority of the specifications cited in the charges. He claims to have discussed his PTSD diagnosis in detail with the investigators and avers that he responded candidly to all of the questions posed to him during two DS interviews. He admits that he did not report the prescription medicines, but argues that he was unaware he needed to do so. Grievant also claims that the charges are untimely, having been brought after a very long delay – nearly 2 1⁄2 years after the incidents, and that the delay has prejudiced his ability to present his case. He claims to have been particularly disadvantaged in that he is unable to find witnesses who could corroborate his positions or shed light on the quantity of medications he took prior to the 2010 incidents. He also argues that the proposed penalty, in any case, is overly harsh in light of penalties the Department has imposed for like offenses. He requests that those charges/specifications the Department is unable to establish should be overturned, and the 12-day suspension should be mitigated.

Click on the image or the link below to read ROI in pdf file. The file is redacted and originally published online by the Foreign Service Grievance Board.

2014-020 - 04-29-2015 - B - Interim Decision_Redacted-2-02

FSGB Case 2014-020 – 04-29-2015 – B |DS Agent – PTSD Case                         (click image to read in pdf)

2014-020 – 04-29-2015 – B – Interim Decision_Redacted-2

The regs apparently say that “a DSS Special Agent who is taking prescription medication to notify his supervisor and submit a medical certificate or other administratively acceptable documentation of the prescription … to the Domestic Programs Division of the Office of Medical Services immediately after beginning the medication.” We don’t know what happens to DS agents who self report as required by regulations.  Are their USG-issued weapons removed? Are they subject to reassignment? Is there a perception that this is an embarrassment?

Given that many Diplomatic Security personnel have now done multiple tours to war zones and high threat posts, is this really an isolated case of not self-reporting both the PTSD diagnosis and the use of prescription medication?

We sent this individual to Iraq in 2006. He came back with unseen wounds. And here he is in 2015, still fighting his battle.   What can the State Department do to make employees with potential PTSD less fearful of being stigmatized in coming forward and acknowledging they need help? What can the Bureau of Diplomatic Security do more for its agents? How can this be made into a less lonely fight?

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